When the call finally came, Karel Innings had been waiting for six days.
Ever since he had sat reading his newspaper that morning and drawn the horrific conclusions, he had known that it must come.
Something had to be done. He had twice tried to get in touch himself, but Biedersen had been away. The message on his answering machine said he would be home by the sixth, but the same message was there when he tried to phone again on the seventh.
The most obvious course would be for Biedersen to make the first move. Without needing to think any further about it, he knew that to be the case. That's what the relationship had been, quite simply-Biedersen and Maasleitner, Malik and Innings. Insofar as there had been any relationships at all, that is.
The next most obvious course-and for every hour that passed during these ominous, gray February days, he could feel that this solution was becoming more and more inevitable-was to contact the police. The timid detective inspector who had been to see him inspired warmth and confidence, and he acknowledged that in different circumstances he would scarcely have hesitated before telling all.
Perhaps he also realized that the special circumstances were really just an excuse. There were always special circumstances. You always had to take things into account. Things like consideration for others-false and genuine-and, naturally awkward situations were a constant possibility. But who could cope with something like this becoming public knowledge? A horrendous skeleton suddenly falling out of the cupboard after more than thirty years of silence. Probably nobody. When he lay awake at night and felt Ulrike's warm body by his side, he knew that at this moment it was an impossibility.
She must be spared this.
And, of course, it was not only his life with Ulrike that was at stake, even if she was beyond doubt the most important part. The whole of his new life, this incredibly placid and harmonious existence that was now beginning its second year, with Ulrike and their three children-his own and her two… no doubt it could have tolerated crises, but not this. Not this nauseating, abhorrent bombshell from the past.
It had evidently decided to haunt him yet again. It never gave up, and could never be atoned for.
The two-edged fear gnawed constantly at him during these waking hours. On the one hand, the fear of being exposed, and on the other, something even worse. During the day, the thought gave him hardly a moment of peace. It was as if every part of his body, wound up like a spring by worry and tension and lack of sleep, was in acute pain as he sat in the newspaper's editorial office and tried to concentrate on the routines and tasks he had known inside out for more than fifteen years. Was it obvious to the others? he kept asking himself more and more frequently. Could they see?
Probably not. Given the nonstop hustle and bustle and stress, it was possible for a colleague to more or less collapse on the spot under the weight of personal problems without anybody else noticing a thing. It had actually happened. It was even worse with Ulrike and the children, of course. They lived in such close contact, and they cared. He could blame it on his bad stomach, and did so. Sleepless nights need not necessarily mean that something serious was wrong.
And simply belonging to the group was an acceptable reason for being worried. The group originally comprising thirty-five National Servicemen. For the uninitiated, that was no doubt bad enough.
He was still managing to keep control of himself, then. But it was inevitable that things would get progressively worse; and when at last he heard Biedersen's broad dialect over the phone on Thursday afternoon, he had the feeling that the call had come in the nick of time. He couldn't have kept going for much longer.
Not much longer at all.
Even if it was not easy to take everything seriously, he had entertained the thought that his telephone might be bugged, and evidently Biedersen thought so as well. He didn't even say who was calling, and but for the fact that Innings had been expecting it and recognized Biedersen's dialect, he would have had little chance of identifying the voice.
“Hi,” was all Biedersen said. “Shall we meet briefly tomorrow evening?”
“Yes,” said Innings. “It would probably be as well.”
Biedersen suggested a restaurant and a time, and that was that.
It was only after Innings had replaced the receiver that it occurred to him that there was an unanswered question in this disturbing game.
What exactly would be involved if he entered into discussions with Biedersen?
And later that night as he lay awake in bed, wandering through the no-man's-land between sleep and consciousness, it suddenly dawned on him.
The new image for his fear was a trident.